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A Fireside Chat With Taylor Ho Bynum

By Published: March 14, 2003

THB: It was a couple of things. One was a chance to work with Braxton, just because he is such an inspiring figure, teacher, and thinker. Another part of it is that I have been doing a lot of teaching and teaching is something I really love and it is very important to me. I think, partly, because I have been lucky enough to have some very great teachers in my life, so it is the thing that I have always wanted to return to. I got to the point in my teaching, I knew to get any type of position beyond a contract to lead a jazz ensemble for one semester, I needed to have a higher degree. That was another part of it. Part of it was purely practical. Part of it was the chance to set aside two years and just focus on writing music and studying music in a very rich and flexible environment, which was pretty sweet. The nice thing about Wesleyan is that once you are in the program, it is fully funded. To be able to get a Masters without any debt and it is close enough to New York and Boston so that the gigs that I care about I can keep. All that together made it seem to be a pretty good choice.

FJ: Let's touch on your work in the Fully Celebrated Orchestra.

THB: I am so psyched that I get to play with them. I started working with them a little over four years ago. I had just moved back to town and I was playing in a big band that Jim was also in. He asked me to come by and sit in with the band a couple of times. They have been together for over fifteen years now. When Jim originally started the group with Timo, they started back when they were nineteen-year-old kids back in Boston. I think they always envisioned it as a quartet, but could never find the right fourth person. That is how I started playing with them and then immediately, I fell in love with the music. One of the things I love that to me is not happening in jazz, I think is a great shame, is a real concept of a band consciousness. You still see it in rock and roll. This is the band. Record labels keep saying that this should be the Jim Hobbs Quartet and all of us would be psyched to play in the Jim Hobbs Quartet, but Jim says that this is a band and we need to think about it like a band and that is something I have so much respect for and I think makes the music richer. The music is some of the best stuff out there. Jim writes at such a high level that it is really trans-idiomatic to use one of Braxton's phrases. I think one of the problems marketing wise and publicity wise is that it is too in for the out guys and too out for the in guys. We love melody, but we want to be able to go anywhere and luckily Timo is such an incredible virtuoso, his bass playing continually stuns me. It is the group's flexibility that makes it great, but in some ways is out curse because it can't be pigeonholed or easily marketed.

FJ: And it isn't really, in the literal sense, an orchestra if John Q Public is getting flashbacks of big bands.

THB: Oh, no, it is a quartet (laughing). They called that when it was a trio and I think the idea is with these four people and with these four instruments, improvisation gives you the possibility to create an orchestral pallet. How much depth can you get out of four committed musicians playing together.

FJ: You have two collaborations on record with percussionist Eric Rosenthal: And Only Life My Lush Lament and Cente.

THB: Eric is a dear friend of mine. He lived right around the corner from me and so we would get together two times a week and just play. We actually came up with the same teachers. Eric is about ten or eleven years older than me, but he went to Wesleyan when Bill was still teaching here and Eric stayed in Middletown after he finished school and then Anthony came in and he was working with Anthony too. So we shared a common lineage as far as who we studied from and so our musical perspectives are similar. We had an immediate connection, both personally and musically. I think for us, that project was very much a product of and a reaction to the Boston free-improv scene at that time, which is a very rich scene, but at that point, I think both of us were interested, at that point, the improv scene was very focused in on free improvisation and sort of extended technique and microtonal aspects of the music. There is some really outstanding stuff in there, but I think both Eric and I had a deep love and interest in jazz or the jazz legacy, the jazz songbook, the jazz continuum. That for us was a chance to use some of the experiences and techniques we developed in that Boston free improv scene and apply them to more of a traditional jazz canon.

FJ: Interesting take on "The Way You Look Tonight."

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